The United States is on the verge of a revolution: the electric vehicle revolution. Electric vehicles can be found on the streets of the U.S. in increasing numbers each month with several new models scheduled for release in 2012. But when did this paradigm shift start? How will electric vehicles change the automotive industry in the United States and abroad? MNN's automotive blogger Jim Motavalli answers these questions and more in his new book, "High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug In the Auto Industry."
Motavalli started writing about electric vehicles nearly two decades ago, when the cars available today were merely a distant thought in the minds of young automotive engineers. Motavalli’s comprehensive knowledge of electric vehicles is apparent in "High Voltage" as he takes readers through the history of the domestic electric vehicle industry, examines the international market, gives readers a sneak peek into the future of electric vehicles and more.
We caught up with Motavalli to chat about his new book and get his thoughts on the future of the electric vehicle industry.
MNN: If you had to describe "High Voltage" in one sentence, what would that sentence be?
Jim Motavalli: The book captures an important moment in time, when the electric vehicle — after several false starts — finally reached a tipping point in the marketplace.
Who should read the book and why?
The book is not just for "gearheads"; it's for anybody who owns a car and is curious about green vehicles. It's for readers who care about the future of the automobile, and (indeed) the future of our planet — because cars are a big part of global warming and our environmental challenge moving forward. The book shows how the coming fleet of EVs are far more than "greenwashing" — the electrification of the automobile is inevitable, and it's starting now.
The book has an entire chapter dedicated to batteries, an obviously integral part of electric vehicles. What three hurdles must the battery manufacturing industry overcome in order to speed up adoption of EVs by the average consumer?
Batteries are the main reason electric cars are still expensive — the packs range from $10,000 to $30,000. So reducing cost is the first hurdle, followed by increasing the energy density of battery packs, so they have more range than 100 miles (the major source of "range anxiety"), and making them lighter and more compact, so they take up less space and don't weigh the car down too much. Cutting charging time is also important. A Northwestern University team says it just made an electrode breakthrough that will allow EVs to hold as much as 10 times the current charge, and also charge 10 times faster. If that can get out of the lab and into cars on the road, wow!
Speaking of the average consumer, what would you say is the number one misconception about electric vehicles? How can the auto industry better address this misconception?
People think, according to recent polling, that EVs have up to 300 miles of range, and also charge faster than they actually do. The auto industry hasn't been all that eager to advertise the electric car's range limitations, but it has to be honest with that — or risk major disappointment in the showrooms and on the road. But they can also stress the positives: EVs can be fueled up in the garage, they're really quiet, and very fun to drive. And a "fill-up" costs only about $2.
Do you think American drivers are ready to embrace an electrified vehicle future?
They say they are, but they expect their electric car to have all the usability of their current car (including range, towing ability, ease of refueling) and also not cost any more than what they're driving now. It's understandable that people think that way, but in the short term, it's going to be very tough to meet that expectation.
Solar company Solyndra recently filed for bankruptcy and this bankruptcy has cast a shadow over U.S. Department of Energy's solar-related lending programs. The DOE also has a role in funding for EV industry projects, do you see the fallout from Solyndra reaching into the automotive sector? Do you think that Fisker's decision to produce the Karma in Finland will have a Solyndra-like effect on government loans to the EV sector?
There's been a drumbeat of anti-Fisker fallout as a result of the Solyndra bankruptcy, but much of the reporting gets it wrong. The DOE loan to Fisker was not for its operations in Finland, but to produce a wholly new car called the Nina in a former GM factory in ... wait for it ... Delaware! And it's a loan, which Fisker will pay back.
Looking ahead to 2012, which electric vehicle are you most excited to see hit the market? Which EV do you think will post the most sales next year?
The biggest sales next year are likely to be either the Nissan Leaf or the Chevrolet Volt, which are neck-and-neck. Nissan has sold 8,500 Leafs in the U.S. so far, and GM isn't far behind with 8,048 Volt sales at the end of October. Both automakers have major advantages in terms of dealer network and advertising. But the car I'm excited to see is the Tesla Model S, coming out early in 2012. Here's a no-compromises electric sedan with 300 miles of range, supercar performance, a luxury, high-tech interior. And at $57,400 it's half the price of the two-seat Tesla Roadster.